Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Egypt’s two main Islamist blocs said they may have won more than 70 percent of votes in parliamentary elections this week that are the first major test of public opinion since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party said it won at least 40 percent in the first round of the elections, which took place in one-third of the country’s provinces. The more conservative Salafi Al-Nour Party said it got at least 30 percent while the secular Egyptian Bloc said it may have won up to 20 percent of the vote.
None of the groups had access to final results from the first round, which are due today after a delay that state television said was the result of a slower-than-expected count due to high turnout. Run-offs in closely contested seats will begin on Dec. 5. With two more rounds of voting in the rest of the country to come after that, the assembly’s make-up won’t be clear until January.
The initial results offer an early indication that Islamic parties are set to play a leading role in the next phase of Egypt’s transition toward democracy, which may bring the political groups in parliament into conflict with the ruling army council. The generals last week appointed former premier Kamal el-Ganzouri to form a government, and say they won’t cede power until a president is elected in June.
“These parties have succeeded in articulating broad sentiments that are widely appealing,” Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said of the Islamist groups. “The problem that all these parties will have is, how do you convert those sentiments into laws and policy? I don’t think they figured that out.”
The army’s reluctance to cede power sparked a week of clashes that left more than 40 people dead and overshadowed the run-up to the two-day ballot, which ended on Nov. 29. Protesters accused the ruling generals of stifling freedoms while failing to restore security or revive an economy struggling to recover from the turmoil that accompanied the anti-Mubarak revolt.
Gross domestic product grew 1.8 percent in the fiscal year through June, the slowest in at least a decade. While the benchmark stock index has rallied more than 8 percent this week, boosted by the high voter turnout and lack of violence, it’s still down 43 percent this year. Egypt’s dollar bonds due in 2020 are trading at about 7 percent, close to a 10-month high.
The Brotherhood’s party campaigned on a platform of reviving the economy by boosting investment in industry, agriculture and technology, and trimming the budget deficit.
There’s no reason investors should worry about a Brotherhood election victory, because Islamist politics aren’t “inconsistent with a flourishing market economy,” Said Hirsh, Middle East economist at Capital Economics in London, said in an e-mailed note yesterday. Investors should be more concerned about Egypt’s likely need for more than $10 billion in external financing next year, he said.
As it claimed an election victory, the Brotherhood also said that the powers of the elected assembly should be enhanced at the military’s expense. “We reject any kind of guardianship over parliament,” said Mohammed el-Beltagy, an official with the Freedom and Justice party.
Samer Soliman, a member of one of the parties in the Egyptian Bloc, said Islamists’ gains so far may “scare” many Egyptians and help secular groups mobilize more voters for the two upcoming rounds. The bloc said it filed complaints against some violations marring the vote, such as “electoral bribes” and the use of “religious slogans” in some polling stations where it wants a repeat.
For now, the military-appointed el-Ganzouri is seeking to form a Cabinet. He said yesterday that he expects to complete that process by Dec. 3, adding that it’s the army council and not parliament that has the right to appoint governments.
Protesters say Ganzouri’s administration won’t be legitimate. The April 6 Youth Movement, one of the groups that helped organize the anti-Mubarak uprising, called for demonstrations today to reject el-Ganzouri’s appointment and demand a national salvation government with more powers. The group said its members will continue their sit-ins in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and outside the Cabinet. Today’s rallies are also to commemorate those killed in last week’s violence.
--With assistance from Ola Galal in Cairo. Editors: Digby Lidstone, Ben Holland.
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